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Consonants: Part 1 of 4

In this lesson we will cover 10 letters that have both Dental and Retroflexive pairs (explained below). This will cover the letters associated with the T, D and N sounds.

The English alphabet only has 26 letters while the Hindi alphabet has 58. Why is that? Well one reason is that the English alphabet is actually not very good at telling you how to pronounce a word. It uses the same letter for totally different sounds (Compare the "a" sound in Lake, Father and Apple) and uses two letter combinations like "th" and "ch" to represent sounds that get their own letters in other alphabets.

The downside of Hindi having 58 letters is it will take you longer to learn them. The upside is that once you know the alphabet you will be able to read and correctly pronounce the words.

One side effect of Hindi letters being more precise is that there are sometimes 2 or 4 similar sounds with their own letter whereas in English there would only be one letter.

Aspirated and Unaspirated Consonants
Many sounds in Hindi have an Aspirated and Unaspirated pair. Aspiration is how much air comes out of your mouth after a sound. Put your hand in front of your mouth and say the word "Tub". Did you feel the puff of air against you hand after the final "b"? Now say the word "Tuba". Did you notice that the puff after "b" was less strong?

A little puff of air comes out of our mouthes after most sounds, but this puff will be stronger in Aspirated consonants and less strong in Unaspirated consonants. The average English pronunciation is usually somewhere in between.

The transliteration for the Aspirated consonants is the same as the Unsapirated except with an "h" after it. It is important that you realize the the transliteration "th" means "t with a puff of air" and not the English "th" sound. This also goes for other 2 letter English sounds like "ph" which represent totally different sounds.

Dental and Retroflexive Consonants
Say the word "Table" and pay attention to where your tongue is when you say the "t" sound. Notice how it's touching the roof of your mouth a little behind your teeth? To make a Retroflexive sound move your tongue back a half inch or so until it is touching the roof of your mouth. Now say "Table" again. Notice how this new sound is a little stronger or tenser than the original sound?

Now, to make a Dental sound put your tongue back in the original position and move it a tiny bit forward until it is touching the top of your teeth and say "Table" again. Notice how this sound is smoother?

Hindi actually has 4 different sounds for "t" and "d":
  • Dental, Unaspirated
  • Dental, Aspirated
  • Retroflexive, Unaspirated
  • Retroflexive, Aspirated
Other sounds like "k" and "g" have pairs of Aspirated and Unaspirated sounds.

For transliteration purposes the tenser/stronger Retroflexive sound is sometimes indicated with a dot underneath however we will be indicating it by doubling the letter (tt, dd and nn) while the aspirated sounds are transliterated with an "h" after the unaspirated sound ("kh" and gh").

T Sounds
Dental, Unaspirated T:

Transliteration: "t"
Pronunciation: 't' in Tall (with tongue touching teeth)



t

Dental, Aspirated T:

Transliteration: "th"
Pronunciation: 't' in Tale (with tongue touching teeth and strong exhale)



th

Retroflexive, Unaspirated T:

Transliteration: "tt" (with a dot below)
Pronunciation: 't' in Tall (with tongue touching roof of mouth)



tt

Retroflexive, Aspirated T:

Transliteration: "tth" (with a dot below)
Pronunciation: 't' in Tale (with tongue touching roof of mouth and strong exhale)



tth

D Sounds
Dental, Unaspirated D:

Transliteration: "d"
Pronunciation: 'd' in Dam (with tongue touching teeth)



d

Dental, Aspirated D:

Transliteration: "dh"
Pronunciation: 'd h' in Dead Head (with tongue touching teeth and strong exhale)



dh

Retroflexive, Unaspirated D:

Transliteration: "dd" (with a dot below)
Pronunciation: 'd' in Dam (with tongue touching roof of mouth)



dd

Retroflexive, Aspirated D:

Transliteration: "ddh" (with a dot below)
Pronunciation: 'd h' in Dead Head (with tongue touching roof of mouth and strong exhale)



ddh

N Sounds
Dental N:

Transliteration: "n"
Pronunciation: 'n' in No (with tongue touching teeth)



n

Retroflexive N:

Transliteration: "nn" (with a dot below)
Pronunciation: 'n' in No (with tongue touching roof of mouth)



nn

Ear Training
These sounds are difficult for a beginner to tell apart. Spend some time now training your ear to tell the sounds apart. It will make your next steps learning Hindi much easier:

T Sounds:
Dental Retroflexive




t th tt tth


D Sounds:
Dental Retroflexive




d dh dd ddh


N Sounds:


n nn